Police look at wrong-way pursuit
Actions studied to determine if chase broke policy
09:51 PM CDT on Tuesday, May 31, 2005
By MICHAEL GRABELL / The Dallas Morning News
Dallas police are investigating whether two officers violated department policy Monday morning when they chased a pickup that went the wrong way on a one-way street.
Braulio Morales, a longtime homeless man who was well-known in the Old East Dallas area, was killed when the speeding pickup ran a red light, was hit broadside by a van and struck him at Peak and Bryan streets.
How it happened: The path of the chase (.pdf)
As the pickup went the wrong way at nearly three times the speed limit, witnesses said, the patrol car followed more slowly with flashing lights and sirens.
Department policy prohibits chasing suspects the wrong way on a one-way street.
Dallas police Sgt. Gil Cerda said it's too early to tell whether the officers, Senior Cpl. Thomas Castro and Sgt. Jeffery Price, broke any policies.
"That's going to be determined through the investigation," he said. "They'll look into the chase, and they'll look to see if there were any general orders violated."
Both officers remain in their normal assignments.
The driver of the pickup, Johnny Wells Jr. IV, will be charged with murder and evading arrest, Sgt. Cerda said. Police originally planned to charge him with manslaughter.
According to the Texas Penal Code, suspects who flee after committing felonies, such as evading arrest, and then cause a fatal wreck can be charged with murder.
Mr. Wells, who has been convicted on robbery, assault, drug and auto theft charges, was in custody and in stable condition Tuesday at Baylor University Medical Center.
His passenger, Myron Johnson, was in Dallas County Jail on a parole violation Tuesday. Mr. Johnson was injured in the crash.
The two people in the van were hurt but did not suffer life-threatening injuries, authorities said.
Geoff Alpert, a University of South Carolina criminologist who advocates for tighter chase policies, said pursuits on one-way streets are extremely dangerous.
The suspect is "going to be driving fast and recklessly, and most of these guys have their eyes glued to their rearview mirror," he said. "The danger to the motoring public is so great, and the likelihood of a crash occurring is so high that it's just not worth the risk."
Senior Cpl. Glenn White, president of the Dallas Police Association, said it's easy to play "Monday morning quarterback."
"In a perfect world when people hear a police officer say 'Stop,' they do. But we don't live in a perfect world," he said. "Ninety-nine percent of the time you don't know why that person is running or if they had just committed a violent crime."
On Monday, the officers saw two men leaving a known drug house in a block of Caddo Street where police have returned time and again on assault calls and found crack cocaine being sold on the corner and stolen cars parked outside. A woman was stabbed in the chest and killed in the block in September.
The two men got in a pickup and drove off, followed by officers, a police report says. The pickup ran several stop signs on Caddo before making a U-turn. At that point, police declared a chase.
The pickup made a left on Ross Avenue and a right on Peak Street, going the wrong way as it traveled south.
The chase lasted about a minute before the van hit the pickup two blocks south, sending both vehicles airborne. The pickup struck Mr. Morales, who was standing on the sidewalk. He died minutes later.
Mr. Wells was injured seriously but had improved Tuesday.
Mr. Morales, a 60-year-old Cuban immigrant, often spent his days in the Old East Dallas business district where the crash occurred.
Business owners said he wandered the streets smoking cigarettes and talking to friends, occasionally stopping in their stores to get out of the heat.
The Vietnamese restaurant on the corner often left him lunch. The manager of a surveyor supply store helped him balance his monthly government checks.
"I noticed him around my neighborhood a couple of years ago," said Ben Slover, who works at Texas Surveyors Supply Co. on Peak Street. "I gradually started befriending him, started helping him out with his basic needs, food and clothing."
Mr. Slover said his friend had gotten an apartment on Munger Street just six months ago after being homeless for nearly two decades.
Every morning, Mr. Morales went to Mr. Slover's store for the $3 a day that was left over after rent and cigarettes.
Despite the little he had, friends said, Mr. Morales would often lend his money to others, offer them a place to stay or let them borrow his coat in the winter.
"A lot of these guys on the street can be mean-hearted, and he just wasn't," Mr. Slover said. "He was very empathetic with the guys on the street, much more so than a guy on limited income should be."
Mr. Slover said he's upset about the crash and would like to see a stricter chase policy.
"Personally I think those high-speed chases are crazy because there's too much of a chance of what happened yesterday happening," he said. "It just makes you think there's got to be a safer way."